Best places for Christmas outside Europe
We’re all for snow days and cuddling up with loved ones by the fire, but the month of December is also prime time for traveling, mainly to see how the rest of the world celebrates Christmas. These cities are worth a visit any time of year, sure, but they seem to be exceptionally magical during the holiday season. Whether they’re Asian cities where you can see twinkling lights from a rooftop pool, or ski paradises in the U.S., some celebrations are worth the price of a plane ticket. And let’s face it: You haven’t really seen Christmas lights until you’ve seen 26 million lights all at once (we’re looking at you, Colombia). From Hong Kong to Cape Town, here are the best places to spend Christmas this year outside Europe.
Cape Town, South Africa
If you’re looking to escape winter this Christmas, you can’t do much better than Cape Town, it’s summer in the Southern Hemisphere, after all. You can even visit one (or several) of the South African city’s holiday markets without having to wear a coat and scarf. This one thing will really get you in the spirit: An outdoor screening of Home Alone at the beautiful Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens on Christmas Day at 8:30 p.m.
Where to Stay
Kensington Place is a luxury boutique hotel located on the slopes of Table Mountain, in one of Cape Town’s most glamorous residential areas. Its rooms have been individually designed and are a surprising mix of contemporary European decor and African art and fabrics. The earth’s colors and natural textures have been used and mixed to create a sober and valuable elegance.
Kensington Place enjoys a privileged location that makes it an ideal base for excursions to historic sites, vineyards, nature reserves and beaches. After a day around the city, a dip to the pool will be inevitable on your return. Then relax on your private terrace to enjoy beautiful views of the city, of the harbor and of the surrounding mountains.
The service at Kensington Place is professional, friendly and never intrusive. The staff is always happy to offer assistance for every need, even a sandwich at midnight for an hungry and demanding guest.
Quebec City, Canada
Quebec City is one of the oldest cities in North America, and its colonial French architecture gives it an unmistakably European feel. The cobbled streets of the Old Town are packed with quaint shops and delicious bistros, all merrily decorated for the holidays. This one thing will really get you in the spirit: The toboggan run at Château Frontenac (open from mid-December to March), one of the city’s oldest traditions—and quite the thrill. Zoom down icy tracks overlooking the city on a wooden sled reaching speeds of up to 70 km per hour.
You haven’t seen Christmas lights until you’ve seen Sydney’s Christmas lights. Plus, the holiday season lasts an entire month here (take that, 12 days of Christmas) with “Sydney Christmas,” an aptly-named festival taking place from November 24 through December 25. The citywide celebration kicked off this year with a tree lighting at Martin Place, and continues with Christmas markets and nightly concerts. This one thing will really get you in the spirit: The 94,000 twinkling LEDs at the incredible Pitt Street Mall Boulevard of Light.
The city turns the voltage up each year with its winter illuminations, with different districts competing with each other to create some truly sensational displays. This year’s illuminations include over 100,000 twinkly blue and silver lights at Tokyo Midtown and a massive Baccarat crystal chandelier at Yebisu Garden Place. And don’t worry if you can’t get there before December 25—the winter illuminations have become so popular that most remain up until February. This one thing will really get you in the spirit: The Blue Cavern (“Ao no Dokutsu”) illumination in Shibuya, an electric version of the blue grottos found in the Mediterranean.
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
December in Rio is all about enjoying an icy caipirinha on a spectacular beach (who says Christmas has to be about ugly sweaters and hot cocoa?). The city also happens to host the world’s largest display of full-sized nativity scenes during its annual Festival de Presépios (“Crib Festival”), found at Jardim de Alah between Leblon and Ipanema. This one thing will really get you in the spirit: Riding a bike around the Rodrigo Freitas Lagoon and enjoying views of the world’s largest floating Christmas tree from every angle.
New York City
There’s no shortage of ways to make your New York City Christmas magical, whether it’s ice skating at Rockefeller Center, carriage rides through Central Park, or lurking around 34th street hoping to witness a miracle.
Hong Kong’s yuletide urban offerings rival that of NYC’s, with holiday markets, window displays, and concerts galore (they even have a Santa Con). Then there are the lights. The Symphony of Lights show—held nightly, beginning November 29—will leave you breathless thanks to an extravagantly choreographed neon show displayed across more than 40 of the city’s iconic skyscrapers along Victoria Harbor. This one thing will really get you in the spirit: Experiencing the Symphony of Lights during a harbor-front dinner cruise.
It may be known as the “City of Eternal Spring,” but Medellín celebrates the winter holiday season pretty damn well. The Colombian city puts Christmas into overdrive with its annual Alumbrados, a festival of lights that began back in 1967. The event is known for its massive displays and this year’s festival (November 30, 2018 until January 7, 2019) will feature 26 million LED lights, primarily in the Parque Norte amusement park (and admission is free). This one thing will really get you in the spirit: Starting each morning with a cup of coffee and an almond croissant at Pergamino Café.
Park City, Utah
As if the world-class skiing and Sundance Film Festival weren’t reason enough to visit Park City this winter, the town also happens to be a wonderful place to spend Christmas. The former Olympic city has ample opportunities for skiing, fly fishing, snowmobiling, and dog sledding—with no shortage of resorts to warm up in between runs, too. This one thing will really get you in the spirit: Snowfest (December 22, 2018-January 6, 2019), a festival at Park City Mountain that includes live music, ugly sweater parties, fireworks, and Santa skiing down the slopes.
Dubai does Christmas the same way Dubai does nearly everything—in true, over-the-top fashion. Don’t miss the tree lightings happening around town, including ones at FIVE Palm Jumeirah (December 4) and Bab Al Shams Desert Resort & Spa (December 7). And since no visit to Dubai is complete without several shopping sprees, set aside time to stock up on goodies at one of the city’s Christmas markets.